Using barcodes 1: Barcode conventions

A basic introduction on how to use barcodes for use within siso systems

Published: March 5th, 2019

Introduction

We've been asked many times how to set up barcodes and readers for use with our siso systems. It is totally possible and incredibly simple to create your own barcodes and attach a reader to your workstations and/or mobile devices so that you can streamline working with your assets.

However, creating barcodes and setting up a barcoding system can often open a can of worms with regard to how to print and attach barcodes, what convention to use and the easiest solution for reading.

There are a number of internationally recognised standard barcode types that allow the hardware (scanners) and the software (the drivers on your computer) to interpret the information that is being read. Generally for the use within your siso system the barcode will be a very short string of information (as all the useful information is held within the asset entry already on the system) and so the very basic type conventions can be used - please see below.

As all our siso systems are browser based, a barcode can be inputted into any active field where a string of text can be entered. Your siso system can store multiple barcodes (useful for inventory management, especially in large institutions) and is capable of auto generating basic barcode numbers, as well as importing existing barcodes for assets and users.

Essentially there are three steps to setting up a barcoding system. In this article we'll be focusing on the barcode conventions and types. We'll be posting the next two steps shortly.

Barcode types

It's a good idea to think about a convention that will apply to all of your assets before starting out, bear in mind how many assets you may have, a four digit barcode convention will break when you get to your 1,001st asset! Your barcode convention could be a simple number or it could include a character code (a location code for example) and an asset number, or a series of codes and an asset number, it all depends on your workflow and any standing convention that your institution currently employs (it's well worth looking into this before starting out so that you have universality). The primary use of codes is to give you an instant clue as to what category the asset belongs to or where it is stored, e.g. L320 - C20 - 001656, L320 refers to Lab 320, C20 refers to Cabinet 20 and the number is the individual asset number (in this case a 6 figure number).

With the code L320C20001656 you will have to choose a barcode type that will be able to read letters, all numbers and a string of up to 13 characters. The most commonly used standardised (ISO standards) are:

  • Code 39 - These can contain up to 43 characters with A to Z and 0 to 9 recognised, characters must be in upper case to work. The only drawback with these is that it is difficult to print them small enough for tiny objects. This code is referred to as a 1D or linear barcode (just one dimension of scan).


  • Code 128 - These are again 1D and high density, meaning that they can be printed very small. They don't have a limit to the amount of digits and in-fact can contain any alphanumeric figure, however the longer the barcode the more difficulty there will be in reading it, either because the barcode is very long or it has been condensed in printing beyond the scope of the barcode scanner. In these cases a laser or high resolution barcode scanner is recommended (more on this in the next article). Code 128 also requires a 'quiet zone' (10% of the size of the barcode) at either end for it to be read successfully. A subset of this code type, GS1-128 is the most widely used barcode type for tracking packaging and shipping worldwide (the GS1 refers to an international standards organisation - for more info take a look at the GS1 website -www.gs1.org).


  • QR Code - QR codes are referred to as 2D (dimensional). The most basic 1D scanners won't read these and so a 2D scanner will need to be purchased. They can contain much more information than 1D codes, however the larger the amount of information, the larger the code (as we've mentioned there probably isn't much need within the siso system for large amounts of information, however it maybe that there are other reasons within your institution for capturing this data).


  • Micro QR Code - If you are only capturing basic information, such as a barcode number and perhaps some character codes for easy identification, then a Micro QR could be useful. They can contain up to 21 alphanumeric characters maximum and up to 35 numeric characters maximum. They can also be printed very small and are usually still able to be read with a standard 2D scanner (how small depends on the printer and the scanner, but we've printed a Micro QR on a standard SD card with a fairly standard scanner and it worked fine).


  • RFID - Radio frequency identification is now being used extensively in large organisations and public bodies for wire-less, hands-free, card-free identification of a wide range of assets, including people and the movement of money. There are many products that can now contain programmable chips that when activated respond to a request from a reader. However the hardware to set this up tends to be expensive, as well as the reader hardware needed to get the information from the chip. RFID systems can read very complex data and feed that back to the reader and in turn create an action. Because the identification information needed for most siso products tend to be small (there is a potential application for automotive fleets or with smartpermit, for automatically tracking car data as they enter or leave a carpark, for instance), the cost of setup and compared with the simplicity of barcoding, we would recommend the barcode as a preferable way of handing your asset identification.


To have a look, maybe print off some barcodes and try scanning them with your phone, there are plenty of apps and websites that have barcode creation tools for you to use. One of the best apps for Apple users is Simply called Barcode Scanner - see here. One of the best for Android is also simply named Scan - see here (where do they get these crazy names!).

To try out some barcode types you can go to barcode generator websites, one we found that is quite simple to use and has all the most common types is barcode.tec-it.com

In the next article we'll look at how to print your barcodes and how to keep them on your assets. The third article (coming soon!) will focus on the types of scanners available from 1D optical scanners to PDA style Android based devices.

If you have any questions or would like further information about how siso systems work with barcoding, please get in touch - info@siso.co.uk